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Top yeshiva urges students not to join tank corps over mixed-gender training fears

Prominent Har Etzion seminary says it is reacting to IDF adding women to officers’ training course without advance notice, a charge the army denies

Female soldiers operate a tank in the Negev desert in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)
Female soldiers operate a tank in the Negev desert in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

The heads of a prominent pre-military yeshiva on Monday called on its students not to enlist in the Armored Corps over concerns that they could end up in a mixed-gender officers’ course.

Rabbis Yaakov Medan and Amichai Gordon of Yeshivat Har Etzion in Gush Etzion published a letter apologizing for previously encouraging students to join the Armored Corps and said they would no longer tell those at their seminary to do so.

“Without any advance notice, the IDF added young female cadets to an officer’s training course in the Armored Corp together with male cadets,” the rabbis lament in the letter. “Now the course is mixed in a manner that does not comport with Jewish law, preventing you from serving there.”

Har Etzion is a well-known and relatively moderate institution known as a hesder yeshiva, in which young men combine years of intensive Torah study with a shortened army service period. The school’s response demonstrated just how widespread opposition to mixed-gendered combat units is in national religious communities.

In the letter to students, the rabbis apologize and say they accept the blame for the position in which some students are now finding themselves “because of the faith we placed in the IDF.”

Moving forward, they wrote, “we will sadly have to recommend that our students not enlist in the Armored Corp until the exclusion [of religious officers] is fixed.”

Illustrative: Students of the Har Etzion Hesder Yeshiva in Alon Shvut studying on August 23, 2020. (Gershon Elinson/FLASH90)

The IDF in response said the claims were “incorrect.”

“The Armored Corps officers course consists of one company containing an all-male platoon. All yeshiva soldiers were offered to move to the all-male platoon if they were interested,” the IDF said.

“The rules of co-ed service are maintained throughout the course while meeting the needs of the soldiers without discrimination,” the IDF said.

The course consists of three months of general officers training for all units in the IDF’s ground forces and another four months of specific training related to operating tanks at the Shizafon base in southern Israel.

The military added that military rabbinate officers were “in close contact” with the commanders at the base, “in order to jointly ensure optimal conduct and in accordance with orders.”

Female soldiers do not serve in the Armored Corps, but do undergo training at the Shizafon tank training base, as the Caracal mixed-gender light infantry battalion now has an all-women tank company.

A group of female soldiers take part in a training exercise in the tank commanders’ course, in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

Last month the IDF declared the success of a two-year pilot program for a company of all-women tank operators, and said the role would become permanent in the military.

The military is only moving ahead with gender-segregated tank crews in large part due to issues of modesty, as in some cases crew members must use the bathroom and perform other bodily functions within the confined space of the tank.

Critics of gender integration in the military often decry it as a dangerous social experiment with potential ramifications for national security, while defenders generally call it a long-needed measure in line with the policies of many other Western countries.

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